Renters beware. Fraudulent vacation home listings have become increasingly popular. Scammers have grown highly skilled in hacking into legitimate real estate databases and even drafting real lease agreements. Unfortunately, websites like Craigslist simply aren't aggressive enough in challenging the tricks and techniques today's sophisticated scammers use. Here are some typical traps and tricks scammers use to defraud vacation home victims:
Too Good to Be True. If the vacation home rental appears too good to be true, you could be its next victim. If the price is far lower than other listings or the amenities seem too palatial for the price, you can expect a scam. Legitimate vacation homes are usually market priced competitively with other similar properties.
Bait and Switch. Scammers love to post glamorous photos of vacation homes and their surroundings. The photos show large expansive rooms, ultra modern kitchens, lavish pools and spas, and manicured landscaping with beautiful tree-lined streets. These properties will always somehow be unavailable, and the vacationer will then be diverted to another, less desirable property. So always ask for the specific address and house number, then use tools like Google Maps to find actual photos of the property and neighborhood. Better still, ask the agent to use web tools like FaceTime or Skype to show you the property live.
Double Book Scam. Scammers will double-book a property, then send the vacationer who arrives last to a second-rate backup, along with sincere apologies.
Wire Money Now and Save Scam. Scammers will often ask for money up front, often in the form of a "security deposit." And they'll want you to use money transfer systems like MoneyGram, or ask you to wire money to a specific bank account. If you must send in money to "save the property," use a credit card or PayPal-both allow you to dispute any fraudulent charges.
No References or Phony References. Scammers won't have legitimate references to give you. They'll either offer you the "privacy excuse," saying their previous renters want to maintain their privacy, or they'll simply give you the phone numbers of their buddies who are in on the scam. So before you decide to book, give the owner or property manager a call and ask for references. You can also check out reviews linked to Facebook.
Fake Positive Reviews. Fake or disingenuous reviews are a problem in some vacation home listings. "Non-disparagement" clauses are beginning to appear in vacation rental contracts, which means renters are not allowed to post negative reviews of a property. So read these reviews with a grain of salt. Use Google Maps and Street View to weed out any false claims of "stunning property," or great location just steps from the beach, resort or convention center. Call the owner or property manager and use tools like FaceTIme to reveal actual home interiors.
Inaccurate Online Calendar. The online calendars for many vacation homes can be poorly maintained. Most are an afterthought for some property owners. Even if the listing shows the calendar has recently been updated, call or email the owner/manager and make sure the property is available on the date you need it.
No Professional Property Manager. According to Trip Advisor, 37% of consumers are concerned they won't have an emergency contact if something goes wrong in a vacation home. Property managers ensure that a vacation home is kept up to date and in good condition. They have relationships with reputable sub-contractors that can handle any property problem that arises. A property manager can ensure the property will be as advertised and that a deposit for a property will be securely handled.
Hidden Fees. Most vacation rentals require a non-negotiable "cleaning fee," and some even require renters to pay for utilities, cable and/or Internet. So make sure you know all the actual and potential fees before you finalize your booking.
Unprofessional Listing. Beware of listings or emails that are poorly written with bad grammar. These can be red flags. The same holds true for foreign phone numbers, or if the owner/property manager fails to promptly respond to emails.
Avoid Craigslist. Don't use sites like Craigslist. Check out and book properties direct from reputable vacation home rental sites.